Games » New York YankeesAug16
Ask just about anyone what the biggest hit was in this game and they would go with Robinson Cano’s fourth-inning three-run home run, which came at the end of a 12-pitch at-bat. The ball was hit so hard and so far that Royals outfielders Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera just turned and watched to see whether it would kill a spectator.
Ask* me* what the biggest hit in this game was, and I probably would say the same thing, but I also would say don’t ignore Brett Gardner’s bunt single that led off the fourth inning. I thought it was a great move. The Royals had taken a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the third. They scored three runs, hit for the cycle (Escobar tripled, Cabrera homered, Butler singled and Francoeur doubled) and ran up Yankee starter Ivan Nova’s pitch count.
If Royals starter Danny Duffy could have thrown a shutdown inning at the Yanks in the top of the fourth, the Royals could have gotten Nova right back on the mound, and they might be able to get Nova out of the game after five innings. If the Royals had a lead at that point, they would have had a shot at middle relief and maybe a shot at a win.
Duffy cruised through the first inning, had a long inning in the second, but gave up no runs and had another long inning in the third, giving up three runs. The top of the fourth was Danny’s chance to right the ship. Go 1-2-3 in the fourth, come out with a pitch count less than 80 and Duffy would have had a shot at five or six innings pitched and a win.
Then Brett Gardner laid down a bunt.
Duffy just missed fielding it. Gardner was on first, and Duffy was right back in the stretch with Derek Jeter coming to the plate. In one move, the Royals went from being in control of the situation to knowing they had another hard inning in front of them. It’s what you think any time the leadoff man gets on.
So Jeter’s at the plate. Remember the thing I said yesterday that the Royals were going to play him to go the other way and if any ball got hit between Alex Gordon and the left field line it would be because a pitcher had made a mistake with an off-speed pitch? Well, call me for stock tips because I think I can predict the future. Duffy threw a 77 mph curveball that stayed in the zone down and in. Jeter smoked it into the left-field corner for a double.
Gardner scored, but the Royals still had the lead. Then the Yankees’ Curtis Granderson laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Jeter to third. Royals catcher Salvador Perez decided to try to get the lead runner out, didn’t get Jeter and the whole inning broke down from there. Mark Teixeira singled, Cano homered and the Royals would never have the lead again.
And it all started with a bunt single.
Why I like bunts
I know that a successful bunt supposedly makes it less likely that a team will score a run. OK, I don’t actually know that, but people say it and I’m too lazy to do the math myself, so I guess I have to accept it. But the two bunts that the Yankees laid down in the fourth inning of this game demonstrate what bunts can do to a defense.
First, bunting for a hit. Let’s say you have 600 at-bats (we’re going to say that so I can do the math in my head) and you get 200 hits. You had a great year. You hit .333 and probably scored a lot and drove in a lot of runs. You also made 400 outs.
In fact, making outs is what hitters mainly do. When a batter goes to the plate, the odds are always in favor of making an out. So how about making some productive outs? And how about making some outs that change where the defense will have to stand the next time you come to the plate? I don’t know of a number that reveals how many hits were created by previous bunt attempts, but the number ain’t zero.
Second, sacrifice bunts. Once again, the defenders have to change where they stand. The pitcher has to change what he throws. Everyone is on edge and uncomfortable. Once the bunt is down, the defense is forced to make some decisions. In this game, Perez was forced to make a split-second decision, and he made the wrong one.
Never bunting, never stealing, never putting on the hit and run are the safe decisions. I’m not sure they always are the right decisions.
The closer in the non-save situation
If you didn’t hear Jeff Montgomery talk about this on TV over the weekend, it’s worth repeating. Closers in non-save situations often struggle. The general consensus has been that they need the adrenaline rush of a close game to perform at their best. Jeff Montgomery has a more logical explanation.
Closers in non-save situations often are asked to throw nothing but fastballs. “Hey, we’re up or down by six. Just lay it in there. Let them hit the ball. We’ll catch a few and all go home.” (Monty said this pretty much sucks because it is the closer’s ERA that is getting blown up while he’s trying to be a team player.)
Closers in save situations use all their pitches and are more effective. I don’t know about you, but that explanation makes a hell of a lot more sense to me.
Mitch stays ready
Mitch Maier was taking ground balls early Tuesday afternoon at third base. (He briefly played that position in the minors.) When he came off the field, I asked him what was up. Mitch said that if his role is coming off the bench, then he wants to be as useful as possible. He can play all three outfield positions. He has played some third base. He has caught, and he’s working on first.
And we know the dude can pitch.
The speed of the game
I finally spent some time talking to second baseman Johnny Giavotella. When he first came up to the big leagues, Johnny was getting swarmed by media and had his family to deal with, so I told him I would leave him alone for a while.
On Tuesday, he was sitting in front of his locker signing baseballs, so it seemed like a good time to get his impressions of big-league life. What stood out about playing in the major leagues, compared with the minors?
“The speed of the game.”
That doesn’t just mean pitch velocity (although Johnny confirmed Mike Moustakas’ impression that there are no easy at-bats in the big leagues). It also means foot speed, the speed of the batted balls, even the speed with which opposing pitchers adjust to a new hitter. Paul Splittorff once told me that hitters used to get a trip around the league where everyone threw fastballs to find out whether the new guy could hit a major-league fastball.
Johnny said that the pitchers had adjusted him by the second series. He said that Tampa Bay went after him with off-speed stuff, so now he as to adjust again. Once he does, the league will adjust again.